"I'm so sorry for the delay in responding!" If I had a dollar for every time I’ve typed those words, I could stop working and finally answer the emails, texts, and voicemails that fly at me like baseballs in a batting cage. I long to become a Highly Effective Person. But how? Well, turns out there are tons of ways to manage your time—so I tried a few.

First was the Pomodoro Technique, named for the originator’s tomato-shaped kitchen timer; you set alarms for 25-minute blocks—each is “one Pomodoro”—in which you work without pause. In between, you get a break. But what was out-of-bounds? Could I pee? Ask a colleague a question? Google “Jon Hamm in glasses”? I reached for my phone four times during my first Pomodoro while thinking No, Molly! But soon I locked into the short bursts, glad to shut out all else. When my work husband came by, I did as the tomato gods command: “I am in the middle of something,” I said in an android voice. “I will speak to you in 22 minutes.” Sure, he whipped a pack of Post-its at me, but I finished that Pomodoro.

Next I considered the tickler file, which sounds like a device you’d hide when your parents come to visit. You label 31 folders (one for each day of the next 31 days) and 12 more, for each month, then write out little to-dos and drop them into the appropriate folder. Each morning you tackle the day’s items, then move the empty folder to the back. To me, this seemed like a great way to waste paper. I’d rather use an online calendar.

Moving on, I tried to start a “bullet journal.” There are hundreds of social media accounts dedicated to this diary/planner/calendar Cerberus, in which you quantify and color-code activities in charts and doodles. Sadly, given my fugly drawings (my beaming “sun” looked like a crushed spider), mine wasn’t half as cute as the ones on the internet. I gave up.

Not every productivity tool is analog, though. The app IFTTT (If This, Then That) lets you create “recipes”: Set one to scour Craigslist for “midcentury side tables,” and you’ll receive an email whenever one’s listed. (Time-saving, yes, if you don’t count the time I spent trying to figure out how to set it up.)

These systems’ tenets did rub off on me. Leaving a lame meeting, I grumbled, “What a waste of 1.5 Pomodoros.” Finishing a long-ass walk, I itched to record it in my journal— in pink, the color for long-ass walks. So I’ve decided to cherry-pick the best parts of each method. I’ll journal when I’m craving the smell of markers. I’ll keep cooking up IFTTT recipes. And I’ll give myself one Pomodoro to gaze at “Jon Hamm in glasses” photos in peace.


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